A Big, Beautiful Aberration?
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How the Return of the Legendary, Era-Defining Band Is Dividing the Internet
IF one were to compile a list…
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of the unlikeliest eventualities and happenings; you’d probably put the resurrection of King Richard III above the news we heard this week: ABBA are reforming, it seems! Whilst some have mooted this might be a full-on reunion and return. It has been thirty-five years since the band split and recorded music – I was born in 1983 and, as such discovered the Swedish group retroactively. The band claimed nine number-one hits in the U.K. from 1974 and 1980 and are (rightfully) regarded as one of the finest Pop bands we have ever seen. Maybe, I guess, The Beatles have enjoyed better success and popularity – ABBA have not done too badly for themselves! There have been repeated suggestions and rumours the group would record together – all refuted and dampened soon enough. This time, it is not a drill: one of the two new songs they are recording, I Still Have Faith in You, will be featured in a T.V. special this December. In a statement; the band had this to say:
“The decision to go ahead with the exciting Abba avatar tour project had an unexpected consequence. We all felt that, after some 35 years, it could be fun to join forces again and go into the recording studio. So we did. And it was like time had stood still and we had only been away on a short holiday. An extremely joyful experience!”
Björn Ulvaeus revealed the details and, with it, sent the Internet into hyperdrive! Although the band are recording new material and are ‘back’; it seems the extent of their reunion will be a little limited – they will appeal on a special (by NBC and BBC) as computer-generated avatars; they will be ‘de-aged’ to look like they did in 1979. It all seems a little peculiar, I guess: the thought of them not really being there takes a little away from the hype and excitement. Alexis Petredis, reacting to the news, looked at their legacy and how they managed to gain a lot of success after their breakup:
“The first time around, Abba were not taken seriously as artists. The general critical consensus was summed up by a photo of legendary US rock writer Lester Bangs, wearing a T-shirt that read “Abba: the largest-selling group in the history of recorded music” and an expression on his face suggesting this was evidence of western civilisation’s imminent collapse.
In the years since they split up, however, their stock has rightly risen to a dizzying altitude. Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson are regularly hailed as the greatest pop songwriting team of their era; the emotional depth and maturity of The Winner Takes It All – and indeed the personal psychodrama behind it – is pored over in a way it never was on release; their relatively overlooked final album, The Visitors, is acclaimed as a kind of Scandi-noir masterpiece. When the BBC made an Abba documentary a few years back, you got the feeling that rock critics and hip musicians alike were queuing up to sing their praises”.
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Those are reluctant and dubious right now are considering what ABBA have provided us and how any new song cannot match the dizzying success and brilliance they reached in the 1970s and early-‘80s. You get this with every reformation and return: the artist will record new songs and they will be nothing like their best; it is pale and, whilst it is nice seeing them back; one wonders whether their music is best left in the past. Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson have given the world such standards as Dancing Queen, Super Trouper and Waterloo – the list is long and impressive. I can understand why purists and loyal fans might not want to see ABBA 2.0. come into the world. There is no way ABBA’s newest song will be THAT good and it is unlikely we will see a full-blown return. They are performing these new songs but it is unlikely the group will continue to record and bring out more records. The members are comfortabl middle-age comfort and they are not the same engaging and wide-eyed band we saw back in the 1970s. Maybe their songwriters have retained their magic with melodies and harmonies: in 2018, when ABBA’s style of music has translated into other artists and mutated; they cannot realistically release material that lives in the past – they have said they have come of age and the new material is just that: it is an evolution of who they were.
I am seeing so many different comments from all ages and corners. If you had to conduct a poll of those who want ABBA to reform and those who fear their return; I would say it would be around fifty-fifty. Although you can claim a lot of their best material came in The Visitors – their final album, released in 1981 – that was thirty-seven years ago. Time has passed and the four members have not been writing and playing together. If ABBA’s news was they were recording new albums and going on a world tour; it would raise questions and some doubts – are they going to degrade their best days and spoil the genius?! The ‘good’ news is they only have limited material out there: a lasting and productive revolution is not a possibility. The other side of the debate have made a great point: any new material from ABBA is a great thing. The fact they have buried their differences and seem, on the surface, to be in a better place is good news. ABBA’s new material will encourage new listeners and the young to seek out the band and their illustrious back catalogue. Most people know about ABBA but the most passionate fans remember them from the first time around – or children of those who grew up with their music.
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I am pleased they are coming back because it has created a positive vibe and flame on the Internet. It has given people real hope and something to bond over. We are all playing old ABBA number-ones and predicting what their new material will sound like. Few actually think it will be another Super Trouper and take the world by storm. Things have moved on and music has moved to a place where ABBA cannot exist and influence the same way they did in their first incarnation. The sheer attention and ceremony their T.V. appearance will be given will change the music world and bring us all closer to one another. If we do not put too much stock in their new music and expect a Second Coming then few will be disappointed. It will be strange hearing ABBA on record so long after they split. I can understand those who predict lukewarm material and wonder whether that will dent the brilliant music ABBA have given the world. The fact so many people are talking about them and checking out their old music is the best result one could hope for. I know ABBA will now get into the hands of new generations and it will inspire other musicians to up their game and aim as high as the Swedish group. One cannot make any decelerations and arrive at conclusions until we have heard I Still Have Faith in You. I am optimistic the group will release a song that gets into the head and still retains a lot of their bygone magic. I wonder, when they have appeared on T.V., they will discuss a full-time return and make more music. There are naysayers out there that raise their eyebrows: I, for one, would love to see ABBA reform and see…
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WHETHER it can reach the exhilarating peak of their glory days.